Over the last few posts, we’ve tried to take a deep dive into Boston Beer to better grasp their business practices and more important, highlight how their decisions are influenced by a beer-loving culture established by chairman Jim Koch.
Depending on your level of beer nerdom – *points at self* – there may be a question underlying all the business talk and expansion and product creation: is Boston Beer too big to be craft beer?
My answer: who cares?
Aside from a definition supplied by an industry trade group, the measure of a brewery should focus more on the commitment to their craft, not the “craft” of what they’re committed to. While Boston Beer and all its products have the advantage of being part of a large, publicly-traded company, their navigation of the beer industry sets them apart.
My hope was that with the help of this series, it’d be easier to see Boston Beer for the value of its convictions, not its bottom line or stock price. As an outsider, that’s how I believe they see their identity, too.
This is particularly relevant as the company continues to expand at a rapid pace:
Boston Beer is spending $3 million PER WEEK to expand production capabilities at its breweries. Will add 600-700K barrels this year alone.
— Chris Furnari (@BrewboundFurn) June 10, 2014
I realize the beer industry is unique compared to other economic areas, given its exponential growth and recession-proof tendencies, but Boston Beer strikes me as unique in their own way. At a time when the company is raking in cash – company-wide dollar sales were up $173 million in the first quarter – they continue to put their money where their pint glass is.
We’re in a strange time, post Great Recession, where many companies are still afraid to open their coffers. One estimation is that while companies have 50 percent more cash than a decade ago, they’re doing nothing with it. It’s simply acting as the ultimate rainy day fund.
Meanwhile, Boston Beer continues to invest in its own growth:
This isn’t a company that is parking cash on its balance sheet and letting it sit there to earn minimal interest. This is a company that’s using its cash to grow the business across all lines (packaging, tanks, etc.). While short-term profits may be dinged a little, it’s all about the long-term. The company knows that production needs to increase, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the next couple of years if Boston Beer looks for more production space. It looks like the company will need it. This isn’t a small niche craft brewer anymore. This company is on the verge of being a billion dollar sales company.
Yes, Boston Beer is a large business, especially if compared to other companies who earn the “craft” monicker, but that doesn’t deter what they do, perhaps primarily because of chairman Jim Koch, as Friend of the Program Jake “Hipster Brewfus” Scholan found out last year during a visit to Boston Beer’s small batch facility:
I felt that I was standing and talking to someone who just liked beer as much as I did. As cheesy as it sounds, he had a real twinkle in his eye as he spoke about his beginnings and his product. He really, really, loves what he does, and he really loves what he creates. I can say that it was nothing but an overwhelming positive experience that boosted my respect for Jim and everything he does. There is no cockiness, and it seems at this point already being established, he is still willing to learn and try new things.
But that bleeds into the business side of the company, thanks to Koch’s acumen and even the construction of its Board of Directors:
The well-balanced diversity that we see in Boston Beer’s board composition is likely one of the company’s success drivers. We see a noticeable pattern in the board’s collective experiences, which includes manufacturing, business development, company foundation, supply chain management, consultants, and marketing. We believe these directors will help fuel Boston Beer Company’s growth in the “better beer” segment over the next few years as an innovative brewer.
All this is to say … Boston Beer is a smart company. Smart in their marketing, smart in their brand production and smart for the fact they’re unafraid to flash the personality of a small craft brewer even while their balance sheets say otherwise. They have more than 60 Sam Adams brands, more than a dozen malt beverages and cider options between Twisted Tea and Angry Orchard and with the expansion of Alchemy and Science, provide greater potential to find and fund “the next big hit.” No matter the definition we may place on the company, it’s clear they are focused on their own path.
Even though it may be a business behemoth, Boston Beer has never lost sight of its greater purpose, for which you’ll find quotes and videos of Jim Koch all over the Internet. The company, its people and especially Jim Koch simply want you to drink good beer:
From the very beginning, people would ask me: “What’s your goal?” My goal was: I want to change the way Americans think about the quality of their own beer. And that’s happening.
Do you have expectations for the future of Boston Beer and its brands?
Posts in this series:
- There’s Craft in Your Beer: A Giant, An Industry and a Definition
- Marketing Boston Beer: When Ad Spending Is About More Than the Ads
- Diversifying Boston Beer: How a Company Mindset Leads Growth, Innovation
- The Road Ahead for Boston Beer: Where They’re Going, They Don’t Need Definitions
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac